Young amputee needs new leg
Sun Valley – When she was a child, Alicia Karau, 20, suffered recurring nightmares of people chasing her, trying to cut off her leg.
“It’s so weird,” the athletic, bright-eyed dancer/actress said, cupping her hands over her downturned face void of eyebrows or eyelashes from her last bout with chemotherapy. “My whole life I’ve been afraid of losing a leg.”
The biggest fears for this former high school cheerleader became reality last June, when surgeons at the University of San Francisco Medical Center amputated her right leg above the knee, where a sarcoma had been developing for several years.
“For two years I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I went to several doctors but nobody did anything. It’s so frustrating.”
She was finally diagnosed after her first biopsy at UCSF in January 2002 – the same month she danced the lead role in the Western Nevada Community College’s production of “Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
At that point, the pain in her knee was close to unbearable. After a cycle of radiation and chemotherapy, she attempted normalcy. She attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, majoring in broadcast journalism and joining a sorority.
Then doctors found another tumor in her groin. They attacked the cancer with three cycles of drugs and radiation. The cancer in her groin was in check, but the tumor on the side of her knee was metastasizing.
She moved in with her father in Sun Valley to be closer to her ever-increasing treatments at UCSF.
She learned to despise San Francisco.
“I really hate that place,” she said, smiling self-consciously. “I’m so tired of hospitals.”
After all of the radiation, surgeons couldn’t operate to remove the cancer.
The doctor who diagnosed Karau broke the heart-stopping news: Amputation or death.
“I just said no,” she said, shaking her head and setting her jaw. “There had to be another way.”
For two months, she wouldn’t schedule the surgery. Her father, mother and sister begged her to do it.
“My whole life I’ve been so active,” she said rubbing her stump, tears welling in her green eyes. “I loved life, I loved the stage and I loved to perform. I thought my life was going to be so different.”
She said she did a lot of soul searching and realized the value of her life.
“It was clear to me that it’s what I needed.”
When she woke up alone after the amputation in a tangle of intravenous tubes, all she could think of was her family.
“I wasn’t thinking about my leg,” she said. “I was crying. I wanted to see my parents so bad.”
When her parents arrived, she asked them if the cancer was gone. They said yes.
“It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she said.
For the last several months, Karau has been undergoing physical therapy with a prosthetic leg and crutches and chemotherapy for the lymph nodes in her groin. She said life without a leg is not half as bad as she thought it would be, because there is always hope that she’ll dance again with the help of a prosthetic.
She recently graduated to a cane, but the prosthetic she uses now – a simple model that doesn’t allow for any movement more strenuous than walking – buckled under her when she tried to pick up the pace, straining the scarred muscle in her groin.
She’s back on the couch resting her muscles, but she has her eye on a new and improved leg, one that will allow her to dance.
Her insurance company won’t pay for the upgraded leg, which costs $45,000.
Her friends and family have raised $6,000 in donations, but they’re hoping the kindness of strangers will help Karau realize her dream.
Stephanie Arrigotti, artistic director of Karau’s former dance company – Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company at Western Nevada Community College – is asking attendants of this weekend’s production of Carousel to drop off donations at the show.
Karau’s family has also opened up an account at Bank of America for a new leg.
Karau said she doesn’t have the nightmares anymore.
“It’s a hard battle I’ve had to overcome, but it’s really kind of a blessing,” she said. “This has made me grow up. I appreciate things more now. I’m at peace with things, and I’m at peace with myself.”
Contact reporter Robyn Moormeister at email@example.com or 881-1217.
YOU CAN HELP
To help 20-year-old Alicia Karau get a new prosthetic leg, make checks out to “Alicia’s New Leg Medical Fund” at any Bank of America branch.
IF YOU GO
What: Western Nevada Community College’s production of Carousel
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St.
Donations will be collected by ushers